Familial Accounts

Present Day: I remember my childhood in fragmented pieces, with no distinction between the present and past. In the same way one experiences trauma, my narrative is created in a such a way that does not follow a traditional storyline. Perhaps the seemingly confused temporality of my narrative is a reflection of my own psyche. They say trauma is passed down, generation to generation. Something alters the cells, the wiring of the brains is rewired and unwired.

1989: Ibraheem sits in a small cell. It isn't really a cell, rather, it's a hole underground. Above him, a crisscrossed door. It lets in the sunlight in patches. Ibraheem tries to fit his nearly six foot frame into the claustrophobic space. He looks up; the sunlight is coming in from the east; it's early morning. Ibraheem sits on his heels, and rocks himself back and forth, back and forth. He thinks he can recreate his mother's cradling arms and rocking motion. He falls asleep with his neck stiffening, the sun slowly rising, and the claustrophobic hole still claustrophobic.

1989: Hamza is standing near the entry gate of Heathrow. His passport and ID cards are a forgery. He wife said if he stays calm, all will remain calm. Hamza's flight is to Norway. H e doesn't speak Norwegian, and he hates the cold. But there is a large Somali community there. Hamza rehearses his story; Ibraheem didn't kill the man, Ibraheem didn't kill the man. Ibraheem has children, a wife, Ibraheem needs money to bribe the police officers to let him go, Ibraheem didn't kill the man, Ibraheem didn't kill the man. Hamza's breathing is hollow. He can't tell if it's because airports make him nervous, or if remembering his brother makes him hate life.

1989: Maryan isn’t calm, she's just can't speak; her voice box broke the night the soldiers came for Mahdi. Her eyes subconsciously register her house, the children; Solomon needs a diaper change, Samira is in shock; she hasn't left her room in weeks, Fathiya left late last night with that destructive boy from across the road; only God knows where they are now. Maryan swore she would leave Somalia, one way or another. Her sister in Canada promised to file papers and get her a visa. But that was before Mahdi was thrown in prison. The word on the street is he'll be killed, the soldiers are tribalistic. Maryan remembers Yonis. Despite the calamity upon them, she remembers another man, another possibility for life. Maryan couldn't get pregnant during her first year of marriage. Mahdi spent his nights and days in Saudi. He was a business man, and marrying her was just another thing to check of his list. And so she spent her days wondering her home. The walls spoke to her, taunting her for marrying a man who must force himself to remember her existence. Yonis was an old friend. He had wanted to marry her, but Maryan, in her vain attempt to marry rich, turned down the farmer's boy. When she sees him occasionally in town, his eyes search her face, trying to read her secrets. But that was two decades ago. Yonis is a soldier now, a high ranking officer in the government's army. Maryan considers reaching out to him, asking him to free her husband. But the thought only wonders in her brain temporarily before leaving.

1989: The soldiers jolt Ibraheem from his sleep. Their long arms reach down and yank him up. He is half asleep, his body completely stiff. The soldiers throw him to the dirt ground. Down on all fours, his eyes register the pebbles of dirt. He feels a sharp pain on his lungs - the soldiers kicked him, hard. Ibrhaeem's eyes inadvertently close, and his body sinks to the ground. The sharp pains didn't end. Instead, they begin to spread throughout his body. A black boot hits the side of his face, and the combination of shock and pain temporarily knock him out. Ibraheem wakes to a dim light room. He is sitting on a chair, hands chained to the antique wooden table. His eyes try to gain a sense of space and time, but the lighting is too weak, and his head is throbbing. The soldiers walk in, silent and menacing. They watch him, eyes carefully hidden behind dark sunglasses. Behind the soldiers walks in another man. He is tall, casual and graceful. "Ibraheem." His voice is soft, clear but soft. "I never expected you to be the criminal type." His thin lips curl into a deathly smile. Ibraheem watches his face carefully. The soldier sits across from Ibraheem and leans in. "So Ibrahem," he says in that soft but clear voice. "Tell me why you're here." Ibraheem's mind races - he tries to pick up on this man's dialect. He thinks, maybe by detecting his dialect, he can figure out his tribe. Ibraheem studies the other soldiers around him - they are alert, their hands gripping Ak-47s and bodies ready to attack. "I didn't do anything," Ibrhaeem says. His voice croaks making him sound like criminal.The head solider leans back and slips his hands over his head. "Really Ibraheem? You didn't kill him? I have witness who say otherwise." Ibraheem's body begins to sweat profusely. "I wasn't there. I was at home, with my wife, and children." The solider stands up and walks over to this comrade. "Abdi, you saw Ibraheem didn't you? You saw him take a machete to that poor man, slice his head right off? You saw it didn't you?" The solider is quiet and his gaze falls on Ibraheem. Ibraheem realizes what is happening - the solider will claim to be a witness, to have seen a murder Ibraheem had nothing to do with, all because the head solider told him to. "Yes sir, I saw it." The head solider turns around carefully, a small smile on his face. "Ibraheem," he drags out his name. "What did I tell you, I have witnesses."

Present Day: The mornings are difficult for Abo. When he wakes, he says he hadn’t slept the night before. Hooyo serves him laxoox with shax. He eats it in silence. The pools of shaax that gathers on his plate Abo stares at, almost as though they are the Oracle of Delphi, and he is waiting for his life predication. I watch him from across the kitchen. I doubt he notices me; his body moaning of tiredness has his full attention. But I am conscious of his every move, of his latest wrinkles and gray hairs. I asked him once, how he felt of gray hairs. He threw his head back and laughed. He laughed my favorite kind of laugh, the one that makes his eyes watery, and his lungs gasp for air. “Mariam,” he said, “My gray hairs remind me of the temporality of this world. They remind me this life is fragile, and that I’m here for just a moment.” He puts his hand on my head, just like he used to when I was a child. Then he walks away. 

by Yasmin Yousof

(photo credit: Farah Abdi Warsame)